STRASBOURG, France — A global Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action began today in Strasbourg, France. Parliamentarians and government ministers from 90 countries will assess progress in promoting universal access to reproductive health care and reducing maternal death by 2015. The two-day conference is hosted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and organized by the Inter-European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (IEPFPD) and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
“Parliamentarians control the purse-strings,” said Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a video news release available for broadcasters. “They can allocate resources for programmes to fight poverty and to devote attention to women. They also have legislative power, and can legislate to ensure that certain standards are met.”
The Programme of Action, adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), is a bold 20-year plan to slow population growth and increase economic growth by investing in reproductive health services, education and women’s rights. This year marks the halfway point in that plan and parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in its success over the next decade. The global parliamentarians’ conference follows other commemorations of the 10th anniversary of ICPD, including: the global round table of non-governmental organizations ‘Countdown 2015’, the United Nations General Assembly meeting on 14 October and a series of regional conferences and public events.
“Life or death is a political decision and it is up to parliamentarians to put into place laws and policies and budgets that save lives by increasing access to education and reproductive health services for all,” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director. “These services fight ignorance and poverty. They prevent unnecessary deaths of millions of mothers and babies. Clearly, these are some of the best investments governments can make.”
Discussions in Strasbourg will focus on how lawmakers can help mobilize urgently needed funds and promote national legislation and policies on population and reproductive health. Funding shortfalls are undermining efforts to increase voluntary family planning services, expand safe motherhood interventions and scale up HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.
“We should always remember that lowering mortality rates means saving more lives, that access for everyone to adequate health care means boosting their health and ability to work and earn their living; that alleviating poverty means defending human dignity and that empowering women means empowering society as a whole,” stressed the Rt. Hon. Terry Davis, Secretary- General of the Council of Europe.
Over the next decade, the cost of providing quality contraceptive commodities is projected to rise from $810 million to $1.8 billion. It has been calculated that each $1 million of commodities could prevent 800 maternal deaths, 150,000 abortions or 360,000 unwanted pregnancies.
“Today, people in many countries know about modern contraceptives, want to use them and know how, but have no access to them,” said Hon. Ruth Genner, President of IEPFPD and a Member of Parliament in Switzerland. Ms. Genner noted that, in some sub-Saharan African countries, an adult man has access to only one condom per year and in some Eastern European countries, a monthly supply of birth control pills costs 20 to 30 per cent of a monthly wage, while an abortion costs only one-tenth that much. “How can we be surprised at the high rates of HIV infection in Africa, or at the dependence on abortion in Eastern Europe?” she asked.
Parliamentarians are expected to adopt a strong set of commitments in Strasbourg outlining concrete actions countries should take over the next 10 years.
Other parliamentary groups supporting the conference include: the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, the Forum of African and Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development, the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development and the Parliamentarians for Global Action.
UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs. Making motherhood safer for all women is at the heart of UNFPA’s mandate.